With the era of the plug-in electric car dawning, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has created a commission to explore avenues of opportunity in Connecticut.

"I want Connecticut to be squarely in the driver's seat when it comes to integrating electric vehicles," Rell said in a statement announcing the formation of an Electric Vehicles Infrastructure Council this week. The council includes representatives from the departments of Motor Vehicles, Economic and Community Development, Environmental Protection, Transportation and Public Utility Control, as well as representatives from various quasi-state agencies, including the Connecticut Development Authority and Connecticut Clean Energy Fund. Northeast Utilities and United Illuminating Co. are also represented on the council.

UI, the electric-power distributor for southeastern Fairfield County and southern New Haven County, has been testing a plug-in car for nearly a year and is working with utilities in other states to create more infrastructure for the vehicles. The state is seeking an $18.9 million grant to further the council's work.

The council is charged with preparing the state to integrate electric vehicles and there is a lot to do because the state is not a leader on that front, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy. Only 20 states have electric-charging stations available to the public. Connecticut is one of the 30 that doesn't have any. Of the 20 out front on the issue, 18 have 10 or fewer stations. Oregon has more than 20 and California has more than 400.

The closest station to Fairfield County is in Middle Island, N.Y., on Long Island.

James Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, commended Rell for moving forward on this issue, because the cars are going to start to arrive.

"All the major manufacturers are working on vehicles," he said. "You're going to need infrastructure for vehicles to be charged and capacity to charge them."

General Motors is expected to start selling its Volt next year, while Ford Motor Co. won a $5.9 billion federal grant this year to retool some of its factories to make plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles.

Ford has announced plans to make an electric Focus available in 2011. Nissan also is working to roll out a new electric car and Toyota announced the iQ, a four-seater, all-electric commuter car to be launched in 2012.

Silicon Valley's Tesla motors, which received a $465 million federal grant this year, has an electric car on the roads.

Fleming, who said he's been asked to work with the new council, said in addition to planning for infrastructure expansion, the group will look at other issues, including what kinds of safety training emergency responders will need to handle electric-car accidents.

Fleming said this could spark a revolution in several industries because new equipment for cars and infrastructure will have to be made, so manufacturers could and should be involved in the process.